Uncovering the footprints of early walking humans

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footprint_540.jpgAs published today in the journal Science, a dig near Ileret, Kenya, has uncovered early human footprints in a streambed — quite possibly, evidence of the first hominids who walked on two legs as a matter of course. In the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s well-reported story, “Footprints offer clue on path to modern man,” TED2009 speaker Nina Jablonski offers her opinion on the fossil impressions:

… There is no doubt that the new prints are a rare find, and that the creatures who made them were spending not most, but all of their time on two feet, said Nina Jablonski, head of the anthropology department at Pennsylvania State University.

Their long, efficient strides would have allowed them to stray from the wood’s edge, crossing open spaces to find other sources of food and possibly do some hunting, said Jablonski, who was not involved with the research.

This would in turn allow for the continued development of a larger brain — a process that already was under way as early humans spent less time in trees, freeing up their hands to accomplish more complex tasks.

NPR’s story has more reactions from scientists, and more photos, including the image illustrating this post.

Learn more about the hunt for early humans in Africa via this TEDTalk from Louise Leakey >>

Photo: This fossil footprint found near Ileret, Kenya, is 1.5 million years old. These footprints are the oldest ever found of the human genus. Image: Matthew Bennett/Bournemouth University, via NPR.org